On tape delayed broadcasts
William McGirt won his first PGA Tour event on Sunday at the Memorial, holding off some big names and defeating Jon Curran on the second playoff hole. The win comes with a three year exemption on the PGA Tour, and his move into the 43rd spot in the Official World Golf Rankings obviously means a lot as well. This is a very big deal for McGirt, but that’s not what I want to focus on here.
The win came after tee times were moved up due to the threat of inclement weather, and a 90 minute delay on the final day. Obviously you can’t predict the weather and when it comes to outdoor sports, sometimes your event just gets the short end of the stick, which always seems to happen at the Memorial. This presents significant difficulties for the tournament. Making sure that the course stays in the best shape possible, ensuring that there’s enough sunlight to finish the round before it gets too dark, and most importantly, ensuring that the area is safe for all of the players and spectators in attendance all play a part when the weather turns ugly. You can’t build a dome over a golf course.
The other thing that gets affected by the weather is the live television broadcast of the event, and yesterday at the Memorial was the perfect example of how golf really needs to do better, at least if you live in North America.
After Matthew Fitzpatrick’s win in Sweden, Golf Channel went up live with their pre-game coverage from the Memorial, except that it wasn’t really pre-game coverage as everyone was on the course already with the tee times moved up. They were showing live highlights though, so the 25 minute show at least had an element of live coverage attached to it, but when it was over and the official tournament coverage kicked off at 12:00 PM ET, we were back to the beginning of the day like the past 25 minutes of live highlights hadn’t happened already. The tape delayed coverage had begun, but like I said, this was only the case if you lived in North America.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a country with access to Sky Sports from the United Kingdom, or if you’re a relatively savvy internet user, you were able to see every single shot live with the coverage on Sky Sports 4. After Fitzpatrick’s win and a quick recap, Sky went up live with their coverage which is a hybrid of their commentators and the CBS feed providing the visuals. This meant that Sky was about two hours “ahead” of Golf Channel and CBS, and even when you take the 90 minute delay into consideration, Sky was about 30 minutes ahead of CBS as the leaders were ending their rounds and the playoff between McGirt and Curran was starting.
For what it’s worth, this isn’t a new thing. On back to back weeks in 2013, Billy Horschel and Derek Ernst won tournaments that were put on large tape delays and every year, it seems to happen a few times where rounds are put on hold because of the weather for long periods of time. Like I said above, this sort of thing happens when your sport is played outdoors and there really isn’t anything that the PGA Tour can do to prevent that.
However, the difference between then and now, even over a seemingly small sample of a few years, is that information can be spread so quickly that having an event on tape delay only serves to annoy the fans who are watching. Twitter can be a negative for a lot of very obvious reasons, but the one thing that it does very well is provide a companion for live sports. While the tape delayed action was being shown on television, the golf media in attendance at Muirfield Village and the official PGA Tour account, were tweeting everything out in real time and getting responses like this:
We’re all in agreement that tape delayed coverage is awful, but traditional networks like Golf Channel and CBS don’t usually have a ton of wiggle room in their programming schedule to just flip a switch either. Sky Sports has about 8712 channels to put live coverage on, and so they are able to be more nimble when situations like this occur. There are definitely all kinds of concerns, monetarily, legally and otherwise that I’m not privy to, around filling a block from 2:00 to 6:00 PM with golf coverage and its not the easiest place to be in if you’re a network like CBS. It’s easy for golf fans to say that they should just interrupt their programming, and the ads that have been sold for that time, but that’s not practical for them in the least. As much as people want to make this a black and white thing, there are shades of grey.
The issue of course is that the only people who really end up losing in this instance are the fans who are watching at home.
The PGA Tour has made significant strides in the past few years in the digital space, and they are light years ahead of where they were when the Ernst/Horschel wins happened. PGA Tour Live is a great service that is absolutely worth the five dollar per month subscription fee, and the networks have significantly increased their coverage online as well, with both CBS and NBC offering streaming options for tournaments when you’re not able to get to a television. We’re not at MLB.tv levels just yet, but covering golf is a really unique beast that presents a ton of challenges that other sports don’t have to deal with. There’s so much action to cover that you’re never really going to get all of it.
This, to me, is where either the networks or the PGA Tour can step in and say, “Hey, if you want to see how everything happened, stick with television. If you want to see how everything is unfolding live, check us out online and through your mobile device.” With how fast things move online in 2016, the only option to watch “live” sports can’t be on tape delay. Also understand that a lot of the frustration comes from the more tech savvy “Golf Twitter” crowd, but aren’t those people the audience that golf so desperately covets? Things like this just make it difficult to get eyeballs on the product when those eyeballs know that what they’re watching happened two hours prior.
At least give people the ability to watch it live if they so desire. Make PGA Tour Live an additional dollar or two more expensive per month if you have to, and at least people will know where they can see the action as it happens. This would be good for the game and keep everyone, especially the fans, happy.